Food is the second most
important way in which energy is taken into the body. It’s the energy in
food that sustains us, and the effect of food energy on our body is the
basis for the dietary practice known as macrobiotics.
Energy exists on a
continuum, from yin, among whose attributes are cold, darkness, and
contraction, to yang, characterized by heat, light, and expansion.
Foods exist on this continuum and can be characterized as predominantly
yin or yang, according to the effect they have on the body.
Yin foods — primarily
sweeteners, oil, liquids, and most dairy products — have a cooling and
lethargizing effect on us. (This occurs regardless of their temperature.
The effect is compounded when they’re chilled.)
Overconsumption of these
foods disperses internal energy and is a primary cause of the weakness and
degenerative diseases now prevalent. Caffeine, alcohol, and many drugs are
also in this category. Although some of the latter substances (and many
sweeteners) produce an initial burst of energy, their effect quickly
abates and is followed by a letdown. Because their overall effect is
lethargizing and cooling, they’re classified as yin.
Yang foods — primarily
meat, salt, eggs, and hard cheeses — have a heating and animating effect
on the body; overconsumption results in tension and rigidity.
Regular consumption of
either category — now considered normal in the West — leads to imbalances
in the body’s energy that ultimately become manifest as physical
problems. There are yin diseases and yang diseases, characterized by an
excess of one or the other, and diseases resulting from both. It’s
therefore advisable to subsist more toward the center of the food-energy
As Daniel Reid says in Chinese Herbal Medicine,
"Food, above all, is the constant cure and forms the foundation of
Chinese preventive medicine. ... Chinese physicians try to follow Sun
Simiao's ancient dictum: first try food; resort to medication only when
food fails to effect a cure." (p. 60)
A diet based on this principle
— the principle of balance — is grain-centered rather than
meat-centered and includes vegetables, beans and bean products, soups and
condiments, and in some cases fish and desserts. Foods that are packaged,
processed, or chemically treated are avoided, as are most animal products.
Methods of preparation
affect the energy in foods and are also important — ingredients and
preparation are suited to the season and locale, with an emphasis on
variety. The five
elements are also taken into consideration, as manifested in the five
tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and pungent (see the "Chinese
practice also avoids the use of electricity in cooking.
As Michio Kushi points out in The Macrobiotic Path to
Total Health, "The intense vibration [of
microwave ovens] can affect the cellular integrity of
the food as well as be absorbed by those who eat it. ... Medical studies show that microwaved food produces
major changes in blood and immune function. ... From
an energetic view, these are predominantly extreme yin,
dispersing effects, contributing to the damage,
deterioration, and decomposition of body cells. Electric
cooking is not as chaotic as microwave cooking, but it
can also lead to erratic digestive, circulatory, and
nervous functions and produce an overall weakening
effect, including loss of mental focus and
concentration." (p. 39)
The point about
macrobiotics as it relates to chi kung, however, is that despite its
excellence, it can at best only remove self-imposed obstacles to health —
the dissipation of our energy by wrong food choices, allowing our own
healing processes to function optimally and unencumbered.
The importance of this achievement should
not be underestimated. But if our energy is low to begin with and has been
further depleted by disease or injury, merely halting its dissipation may
not be enough. We must actively consolidate and rebuild and expand it for
healing of deep or chronic problems to take place, and chi kung can do
this. Macrobiotics is, in a sense, the yin or passive aspect of energy
practice, while chi kung is the yang or active aspect. We can do either
separately, but for the most rapid progress, both are essential.
an excellent general discussion of macrobiotics as related in a doctor’s
personal experience of healing, see Recalled by Life, by Anthony
Kushi, one of the foremost exponents of
macrobiotics, and his wife, Aveline, have written (individually, together,
and with others) many books on the subject, covering various health
problems, aspects of Eastern diagnosis, and cooking techniques.
especially The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health, "a complete
guide to preventing and relieving more than 200 chronic conditions and
disorders naturally." For each category of illness, the authors
(Michio Kushi and Alex Jack) outline the conventional medical treatment,
provide references to medical studies (for those who feel the need for
this sort of thing), and then discuss the macrobiotic approach.
Michio Kushi's The Book of Macrobiotics and Your Face Never
Lies are also outstanding, as are The Cancer Prevention Diet and Diet
for a Healthy Heart. The Kushi Institute, in western Massachusetts,
offers workshops and events and sells macrobiotic products and utensils by
mail order: www.kushiinstitute.org.
Among cookbooks, Aveline
Kushi's Introducing Macrobiotic Cooking is a standard, as is Kristina
Turner's warm, user-friendly, best-selling volume, The Self-Healing Cookbook.